University of Nebraska-Lincoln
In the last year, few people — if any — had the privilege of attending Super Bowl LI, the College Football Playoff, MLB Postseason, NBA playoffs, Stanley Cup Playoffs, NCAA Women’s Final Four, various college football and basketball games and a few motor sports in between all of it.
Associated Press sportswriter Stephen Hawkins got paid to do all of it.
That’s the life of a wire service sportswriter based out of a large market like Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas.
“Working for a newspaper, you will generally tailor your writing (and) reporting to a specific team (or) audience,” said Hawkins, 49. “Working for the wire service, not only am I basically the beat writer for local teams, I am (also) providing the coverage for the opposing teams when they are in this market.”
Wire services like the AP and Reuters seem complicated, but are relatively simple. The AP sends reporters to cover events in close proximity to its nearly 200 bureaus worldwide, and those reporters write short- and long-form stories tailored for news outlets across the world. Any AP subscriber can then use those stories for its own purpose.
So there’s a good chance you’ve read some of Hawkins’ work, you probably just don’t know it.
He’s provided comprehensive coverage of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers along with local colleges in the Dallas-Fort Worth market for close to 20 years. Any sports-related story from the area that shows up in the newspapers of places like Grand Island, Nebraska, or Elko, Nevada, probably comes from Hawkins or his colleague, Schuyler Dixon.
“The job with the AP is still at its core the same — be fast, accurate and clear in reporting the news,” Hawkins said. “Covering sports in a major market with multiple professional and college teams, auto racing and golf and venues hosting numerous championship events, there can be any number of different events/sports in the same week.”
As one can imagine, the job of a sportswriter is far from glamorous.
“There are a lot of days and nights spent in press boxes, clubhouses and arenas,” Hawkins said. “(There are) a lot of irregular hours. Away from the games/events, the cell phone and email are constant companions. As my wife has often said, it's the doctor’s hours without the doctor’s pay. And even more so now with the ever-increasing speed and avenues in which information is distributed.”
Hawkins’ career began when he was still in junior high, first as a staffer of his school newspaper and then as the editor of the paper. He then got paid to cover the local Little League All-Star tournaments for the local newspaper in his hometown of Pascagoula, Mississippi.
That’s when he really felt a passion for the industry.
“(The Little League games) really hooked me, knowing that I could get paid for watching and writing about sporting events,” Hawkins said. “I figured I wouldn’t have a career past high school as an athlete, but being a sports journalist would allow me to be around the games.”
After Hawkins graduated from Ole Miss, where he worked as a sports information director and helped the AP cover Ole Miss basketball as a stringer, he immediately went to work for the Associated Press.
He began as an intern, but then took a job in Jackson, Mississippi, to cover both news and sports with a little bit of broadcast writing, too. He moved to Texas in 1999, and has covered sports in the Metroplex ever since.
While the job title has been the same, the job itself continues to fluctuate.
“No longer does game coverage entail only going to the locker room afterward to get some quotes and put in a written story,” Hawkins said. “With social media, there is that immediate distribution of what is happening in real time.”
The technological revolution now impacts just about every facet of journalism. And that includes what the writers and editors at the AP -- an organization that now uses robots to write minor league baseball stories -- have to do.
“Now, when planning feature stories and game coverage, along with pregame and postgame availabilities, there has to be thought into what kind of video and even audio packages can be incorporated with the written story for online presentations,” Hawkins said. “When a notebook used to be enough for the postgame availabilities, often the smartphone is used to take video of the players or coaches talking.”
Even for a vet like Hawkins, that means learning the ins and outs of anything that can help collect and distribute stories.
“(I am) constantly (learning). I don’t think that ever ends because so much changes in the industry. And a lot of times it’s just trying to keep up with the different forms of social media and such, and the many different ways that athletes and even teams can reach out to their audiences in a way to try to control their message.”
A note about the content: This site showcases the final projects of University of Nebraska-Lincoln editing students. Each semester, students pick a journalist or communications professional to profile. This is their work.
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